Entering the season opener, the two fan bases of the Dolphins and Browns had high hopes, albeit for different reasons.
The Browns, having another regime change, seem to finally have an energized core of coaches and players. With more aggressive coaches that have a solid reputation within the league, the fans rightfully are expecting a more competitive team.
The Dolphins, who spent over $160 million in the offseason, have playoff inspirations riding on sophomore QB Ryan Tannehill’s shoulder. In Joe Philbin’s second season, there is great expectation that the weapons around Tannehill will finally help him finish in the redzone more often.
In this article, I’ll address each aspect of the game for both teams. I’ll begin with the positive, note the trends I saw, as well as the reasons for concerns.
The opening script of plays from Chud and Norv worked well. RB Trent Richardson showed his excellent balance and power by starting the game with a variety of runs to the strongside of the formation and up the middle. This early success and the threat of Richardson’s playmaking ability caused Miami to respect the play action, and it worked well throughout the game, benefitting TE Jordan Cameron and WR Travis Benjamin on a few occasions. They mixed up the run directions well, with only 5 of 13 rushing attempts going strongside. Pass protection was solid in the first half. Using a chipping RB on every pass, the pass protection only became an issue once the offense completely abandoned the run and became completely predictable.
The Browns offense was very predictable. Every shotgun play resulted in a pass. That’s 43 passes from shotgun, 0 designed runs. For offensive gurus, this cannot happen again. The defense pinned their ears back with 4 rushers routinely and were able to smother WRs. In those passes, there were only 2 plays with 4 WRs on the field. Most of the time it was 3 WRs, 1 TE. The Browns need more speed on the field, not less.
The pistol formation used with 2 RBs and 1 TE was horribly ineffective on pass plays and rush plays. This forces the 2nd RB to pass protect but they have less time to read the pressure. Using a more traditional pistol formation would be much more effective. 60 plays ran had only 1 RB, so using the 2nd back generally means max protect, and the defense picked this up easily.
The offensive line struggled with creating holes for Richardson due to poor guard play and the lack of a blocking FB. Cousins and Greco weren’t sealing blocks with any effectiveness, and Cousins in general was too slow on far too many plays, passing and rush plays. The Dolphins DTs shoved him around with ease too often.
Below, I’ve taken some screen shots with illustrations to show what was done wrong.
With these, we see why Richardson is taken off the field most of the time on 3rd down. He takes bad angles on blitzes because he doesn’t read them well. The first picture shows a delayed blitz that Richardson committed to late. The second picture shows a missed chip by Ogbonnaya and Richardson flailing at the lineman that also beat Joe Thomas.
Here we see RG O’Neil Cousins and TE Jordan Cameron getting beat, blowing up a potentially huge running play. Cameron dives at the Dolphins defender, but misses and he makes the play after a small gain.
Brandon Weeden played poorly this game, and this photo shows that he continues to stare down his first option and doesn’t scan the field. He missed numerous open WRs due to late throws or bad reads. The WRs also had a rough game, rarely able to find space in the Miami zone/man mix. Better QB play would’ve helped the WRs look better though.
• 81% of all plays featured only one back
• 100% of shotgun plays were throws by design (43 plays)
• TE rarely lined up in line, thus tipping the pass play.
The Browns defense under new defensive coordinator looked strong in the first 3 quarters, creating pressure on the Miami offense to abandon the running game and make plays using quick passes. The front 3 lineman were excellent in clogging rushing lanes and disengaging blocks quickly when the ball carrier was near. The secondary also did well to limit the big plays. Besides some completions down the seam to Clay and Gibson, there weren’t any defenders unaccounted for.
The biggest play of the day was the backbreaker that won Miami the game. WR Brian Hartline burned CB Buster Skrine on an out-n-go for a touchdown. Skrine continues to be undisciplined and was picked on throughout the day, but the same goes for Chris Owens. Neither played very well, but they didn’t give up huge chunk plays, either. The safeties weren’t a factor at all, besides one poor throw by Tannehill into double coverage, which forced a Tashaun Gipson interception. This was a solid zone play by the Browns defense, but more turnovers need to happen. The defense was gassed by the start of the fourth and was punished with short to intermediate throws.
The Dolphins recognized quickly that the offensive line wasn’t able to create a push vs the large men on the Browns d line, so they went to a quick hitting pass attack that utilized the entire field. WRs Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson were open throughout the day, and TE Charles Clay had a coming out party, which was sorely needed. QB Ryan Tannehill looked much improved in the second half with his pocket presence and ability to read the defense. He picked apart the defense with quick hits and had much better accuracy in the middle of the field. The offensive line also wasn’t as bad in the pass game as some media would have you thinking. The bull rush was effective, but two of the sacks were on Tannehill, not the offensive line.
The coaches gave up on the run game too easily. For WR Mike Wallace to be effective, they need to establish a running game to open up the play action. This picture shows the bad blocking by RT Tyson Clabo. Clabo completely whiffs on his initial block and the jet sweep is killed immediately. I saw this a lot, were the communication was poor among the lineman and a defender blew up the play immediately. This is fixable and should help Miami and RB Lamar Miller eat vs. the Colts, but the coaches need to commit to establishing their dominance at the line.
Another negative was the inability to involve star WR Mike Wallace. There were about 4 plays in which Wallace should’ve been thrown to, and 2 in a row that he was open to make big plays.
Here, Wallace is at the top. He goes into motion and does a drag route and is wide open by the time the safety reads Tannehill’s eyes. The next play Wallace is wide open on a 10 yard curl route, and Wallace is visibly upset he’s being missed. The play above would’ve been a touchdown. Wallace was also open on multiple back shoulder fade routes, but that’s not Tannehill’s strength from his previous tape.
• 62.5% of run plays were to the strong side, which tipped the defense too much.
• 80% of the plays had a singleback. That could drop with new FB Tyler Cutts being more acclimated to the offense.